Research at Nebraska: May 2023 highlights

News for Researchers

Posted June 2, 2023 by Tiffany Lee

In case you missed these stories highlighting research and creative activity at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the Office of Research and Economic Development’s communications team has compiled a roundup of some recent top stories from and other sources. 

Guo aims to develop smart tech for household objects 

 Who: Hongzhi Guo, assistant professor of computing  

What: Guo is using a nearly $500,000 National Science Foundation CAREER award to develop wireless communications technology that expands the range and function of near-field communication, or NFC. It’s the short-range technology that enables contactless pay, card-access building entry and e-ticketing. Guo envisions an expanded range of applications, including digital twinning of the home, a smart postage stamp system and an enhanced “Internet of Clothing.”  

“The Internet of Things is a pretty mature technology in that we can connect sensors,” he said. “But still, there is a big gap. A lot of items do not have digital ID. We don’t know their status. If we want to build a virtual model for our life, then we need a technology to connect it with everything in the physical world.”   

Writer: Tiffany Lee, Office of Research and Economic Development 

Gene-edited calf may reduce reliance on antimicrobials against cattle disease 

Who: Brian Vander Ley, associate professor of veterinary epidemiology 

What: Vander Ley is part of a team that produced a gene-edited calf that is resistant to the bovine viral diarrhea virus, a major health threat to cattle worldwide. Because BVDV is highly mutable, vaccines have had limited efficacy. The researchers turned to a gene-editing approach, changing the small number of amino acids that lead to BVDV vulnerability. The calf, Ginger, is nearly 2 years old and has been normal physically and behaviorally, despite spending a week with a BVDV-infected dairy calf that was shedding significant virus. This approach could reduce the cattle sector’s use of antimicrobials.   

“The most successful version of the future that I can see is one where we don’t have to deal with antimicrobial resistance because we just don’t have that many antimicrobials,” Vander Ley said.  

Writer: Geitner Simmons, IANR Media 

Rural Prosperity Nebraska receives $25M USDA award for Regional Food Center 

Who: Rural Prosperity Nebraska 

What: The university received a $25 million cooperative agreement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create the Heartland Regional Foods Business Center, an online platform aimed at connecting and strengthening locally grown food systems. Goals include devising new strategies for strengthening supply chains and connecting consumers to local, healthy food – which also boosts local economics. The center, one of 12 nationwide, will serve Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa. 

“We want to get the message out to producers who are producing fresh foods for local markets that there are resources out there for you, and we’re going to make it easier for you to find them,” said Mary Emery, executive director of Rural Prosperity Nebraska. “To food consumers, we want to say we’re going to help you find more and better local, healthy foods.”    

Writer: Russell Shaffer, Rural Prosperity Nebraska 

Agtech sensor startup EnGeniousAg receives $1M grant 

Who: James Schnable, Charles O. Gardner Professor of Agronomy 

What: Schnable is part of an Iowa State University-based company, EnGeniousAg, that received a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Phase II Small Business Innovation Research program. The company is commercializing in-field nitrate sensors that provide near-instantaneous readouts for farmers, enabling them to tailor application of nitrogen fertilizer – which is expensive and can harm air and water quality. The sensors measure nitrate levels in the plants rather than in the soil, eliminating the need for costly and time-consuming lab testing. Schnable and Iowa State colleagues developed the technology with Department of Energy funding, which included trials at UNL’s Havelock Farm. 

“We think our sensors can do a better job of identifying the estimated 10-30% of corn acres in any given year that will not benefit from the application of nitrogen fertilizer,” Schnable said. “Correctly identifying these fields creates the potential for up to $6 billion a year in savings for farmers without reducing crop yields.” 

Writer: AGDAILY reporters 

Study shows news coverage on Twitter combined crime, pandemic in disjointed narrative  

Who: Lisa Kort-Butler, professor of sociology   

What: Kort-Butler explored how the COVID-19 pandemic affected legacy news reporting about crime, with a focus on Twitter posts. After sifting through 156 tweets between March 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2021, from various media entities, Kort-Butler found patterns of topics and narratives. The tweets paired the pandemic with crime in a variety of ways, a phenomenon that Kort-Butler said may have unjustifiably magnified collective instability and uncertainty.   

“They would talk about the pandemic as creating this crisis, or that it was tied to this crisis, or crime as a public health issue, but the images they used were all similar stock footage,” she said. “There was rarely a specific story about a specific offender doing these sorts of things or an understanding of why perpetrators committed these crimes.” 

Writer: Deann Gayman, University Communication and Marketing 

UNL-led TORUS team back on the road to collect supercell thunderstorm data  

Who: Adam Houston, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences 

What: Houston is leader of the multi-institutional Targeted Observation by Radars and UAS of Supercells project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The team’s goal is to improve the country’s tornado warning system by better understanding how tornadoes form. This year – the third summer of data collection – operations extend from southeast New Mexico to the Canadian border, and from eastern Colorado to western Iowa. The team includes around 15 Husker students and alums.  

“There have been environments where everything seems to be in place, and yet a tornado doesn’t form,” Houston told The New York Times last year. “So what is that piece we’re missing? What is that thing that short-circuits the process?” 

Uniformity of prey can yield spider-eat-spider world 

Who: John DeLong, associate professor of biological sciences; Amber Squires, laboratory technician; and former Husker graduate students Stella Uiterwaal and Bennett Grappone 

What: While at Cedar Point Biological Station, Uiterwaal noticed that the wealth of local wolf spider species seemed to defy the classic ecological idea that species can’t occupy the same niche of the same habitat. The team studied the diets of eight wolf spider species using a variety of techniques, including a mathematical method developed by Uiterwaal. They found strong evidence that the wolf spiders were regularly eating each other – probably to maintain an ecological equilibrium when diversity of mutual prey is lacking, Uiterwaal said. 

“The implication for how the food web is structured is really, really different than what we would have imagined going into this,” DeLong said.  

Writer: Scott Schrage, University Communication and Marketing

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